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West Loop Community Garden Shut Down Due To Rats And Weeds

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A community garden in the West Loop has been closed over neighbors' concerns about rats and weeds.

Cell phone video posted on social media shows rats clinging to the leaves of the sunflower stalks in the middle of the day at the garden at 37 S. Sangamon St.

"On the plants, eating the plants, running around," said neighbor Lauren Wilner. "We've seen rats in the plants, and running out of here across to the park."

Neighbors said they've seen it before.

"It's a concern. There would be concern for the people that are actually growing the food in there as well," Chris Wheaton said.

Garden members tend to small pool-planted spaces. It's about a quarter of the vacant lot that sits at the corner of Sangamon and Monroe. It's a vacant field, overgrown with thick weeds stretching beyond its fencing, in the center of one of the priciest neighborhoods in Chicago.

Owners Sangamonroe LLC plan on building a 24-story condominium tower on the lot.

After CBS 2 showed pictures of conditions at the field to the ward's alderman, he asked owners to clear the field and stop operations at the garden.

"Rats are a citywide issue. They're a neighborhood-wide issue. We can't solve the issue alone," said Moshe Tamssot, who has an agreement with the property owners to operate the garden.

Tamssot said he feels he is being unfairly targeted and blamed for the rat problem.

"Everyone says that we're at fault, because we're the food source. Again, that's what a community garden does, but rats also need a place to live, and they need water sources," he said. "When we are not here, when we're not operating, the rats are still here. So if the rats are not eating on a few sunflowers that people are reporting, then they're eating out of your dumpster, they're eating out of your dog poop totes."

Tamssot insisted the rodents are not a byproduct of careless growing conditions. Rather, he blamed booming construction nearby that has displaced the rodents' populations.

He's already worked with an exterminator to lay rat traps, and knows his composting heap is not tightly secured, so he and the others who use the garden are rebuilding the composter to keep rats out.

Proponents of the city's 280 community gardens warned improper composting could attract rodents. Tamssot said he's now awaiting a review from city inspectors over whether he can open again.

"If they find action items like 'improve composting,' or 'take an urban [agriculture] course,' or whatever, we are willing to fully cooperate with the city, because we believe the mission is a good mission," Tamssot said.

CBS 2 reached out to Sangamonroe LLC -- the owners of the vacant property -- but those calls have not been returned.

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